Sunday, December 26, 2021

Famed artist dies one year after playing tennis at 100

   Wayne Thiebaud, a world-renowned artist from Sacramento, Calif., who played tennis until just after his 100th birthday, died on Christmas at 101.
    "It's actually a blessing in disguise," said Larry Crabbe, who played doubles with Thiebaud (pronounced TEE-bo) for the last 13 or 14 years of Thiebaud's days on the court. "How appropriate that he went out with a flourish on Christmas Day. Anybody can go out on a boring day.
   "We'll certainly never forget him. Every Christmas, we'll be reminded, and I think in a happy way. He was ready to go."
   Thiebaud was best known for his colorful paintings of cakes, pies, sundaes and ordinary objects, but he also depicted landscapes and people. His 1962 work "Four Pinball Machines" sold at auction last year for more than $19 million.
   COVID indirectly caused Thiebaud's death, according to Crabbe.
   "He never did have COVID, but COVID wasn't a good thing for him because, like a lot of us, he was so restricted in his movement," said Crabbe, who will turn 76 on Wednesday. "We stopped playing tennis, which was really a terrible thing for him because he was very physical and going all around town. He stopped going to his studio, and it really slowed down his painting. That took its toll on his strength, and the problems compounded themselves."
   Crabbe last spoke to Thiebaud a few days before Christmas.
   "It was very challenging to understand him because his voice was slurred," Crabbe said. "Mentally, he was as sharp as ever, and we had a good conversation about how he felt and lighthearted things. 
    "He was in hospice and extremely weak. The outcome was inevitable, and I think he was comfortable with that, reconciled to that. He wasn't taking medications, other than blood pressure pills and aspirin." 
   Thiebaud played tennis for the last time the day after turning 100 on Nov. 15, 2020.
   "(It was) with my wife and me and another fellow," Crabbe recalled. "We did that basically to commemorate his 100th birthday. We had not played for quite a while, but things were calming down a little bit with COVID, and we had masks, so we just went out for the one morning. He did his own thing on his birthday, but we got together and played tennis the day after, and that was very special for my wife and (me)."
   Crabbe said he will remember Thiebaud, a longtime teacher, as "one of a kind, a fantastic human being, absolutely brilliant. He had a near-photographic memory about art and friends. When I forgot about a painting we saw, the artist or where we saw it, I could always go to him, and he'd know right where we saw it and who it was.
   "I've never met anybody like him in terms of mental capacity, a real intellectual. He was extremely gracious. He never wasted time being critical of other people. He always had a positive outlook on things, even when it became challenging recently."
   As a tennis player, Thiebaud "had a heck of a good game," Crabbe said. "Up to almost the end, the final time he played, he was still a very sophisticated player. He had lobs, all kinds of different serves and a drop shot right over the net. Even when he was 99, he would be all the way at the back line, somebody would drop one right over the net, and he'd run all the way up and most of the time get it. He was nationally ranked and an extremely competitive player when he was younger. So was his (late) wife, Betty Jean.
   "Amazing man. For a decade or so, he changed our lives far for the better. I wouldn't have been nearly the same without him."

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